Monday, 10 October 2011

German refiners at a crossroads

The following is a market commentary from NewsBase's EurOil monitor, published in May 2010.


The news has rarely been good for Europe’s refiners in recent months and years. The recession has hit industrial demand hard, while the increasing spread of more fuel efficient technology threatens to cut demand for the future. Meanwhile, their competitors in Asia grow stronger, their increasing might best represented by the vast Reliance refinery at Jamnagar in India.

Germany’s refineries epitomise the impact of many of these trends. Shell’s Heide and Harburg plants are up for sale as the company seeks buyers for 15 percent of its global refining assets, with profits from refining down 26 percent worldwide in the first quarter of 2010. BP is mid-way through a wave of redundancies at its Gelsenkirchen refineries that will see one-sixth of the workforce cut.

Germany has also seen its share of headline-grabbing predictions about the future of the industry, with BP Germany CEO Uwe Franke claiming in November that there will be overcapacity of “between 20 and 30 percent by 2020 or 2030”, adding that “refineries will have to close”.

Christophe Barret, global oil analyst at Credit Agricole – CIB, told NewsBase: “It’s a very large gap between the capacity and the utilisation [of European refineries]. If you look at the average for 2002 to 2008, basically the average remains close to 15, 15.5 million barrels per day, and now we are close to 13, so it’s a very big gap. So we have roughly two million barrels per day of excess capacity in Europe...We’ve had that since the middle of 2009.”

He added: “Now we have very moderate economic growth in Europe, particularly with all the problems we’re having now, and we don’t have a rebound in [oil] product demand and we should have this excess of capacity at least through 2012.”

As well as coping with the dead weight of overcapacity and low refinery rates, market players will also face the challenge of reconfiguring refineries, Barret believes, as the recession reshapes the demand profile for various oil products.

“We are having a very sharp drop in industrial activity and in world trade, so we have a strong impact on gasoil demand, but we much less of an impact on gasoline demand. It’s much stronger than gasoil demand and it’s a complete reversal of what we had before...It means that refiners have been put in a difficult situation because they tried to adapt their refining to the structure of demand that we had before, which was mostly oriented toward growth in gasoil demand. There’s the problem of flexibility for a refiner. That will be interesting in the next few months.

“When refiners have to meet gasoline demand, they produce gasoil in excess that has to be put in storage. The result on the market is that we are ending up now with very, very high stocks of gasoil and with gasoline stocks at reasonable levels. It’s interesting for refiners to look at that because it has a strong impact on their investment and the configuration of their refineries, for example they invest much more in hydrocrackers...if they want to produce more diesel than gasoline.”

The German oil product sales figures for March, published by the MWV trade body, show that sales of heating gasoil fell 41.7 percent year-on-year in Germany in March, while gasoline sales rose 0.2 percent. In February, the last month for which refinery output figures are available, production of heating oil was down 34.6 percent, with gasoline dropping 18.3 percent. According to the MWV, capacity utilisation at German refineries stood at 76 percent in February.

While demand is likely to recover, Barret is keen to sound a note of caution about future demand, as the European public move towards greater energy efficiency. “What we have in Europe is a very small increase in oil demand. We are losing gasoline demand at roughly 100,000 barrels per day per year and we are gaining some diesel demand because of the increasing penetration of diesel cars,” he said.

“Kerosene is growing, but we have a very low increase in kerosene demand. Fuel oil is very low, it’s declining because it’s being replaced by natural gas. We have very slow growth in oil demand in Europe anyway, even when we don’t have a recession, but with a recession this drop is amplified, of course.” He added that the same process could be seen in the US, where more efficient cars are cutting demand, with further pressure coming from the increasing use of ethanol.

Another area in which Germany illustrates trends in European refining is that of possible mergers and acquisitions. Shell has been trying to sell its Harburg and Heide sites in Germany for several months, but on-off talks with India’s Essar on the German refineries and Stanlow in the UK will have come under pressure following Essar’s unimpressive initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange on May 3. 

Shell’s chief financial officer Simon Henry had previously said that the company would consider closing one of the refineries or converting it to a depot if a price could not be agreed upon. Another Indian company, Reliance, has previously expressed interest in Europe, although this came in the form of an ultimately unsuccessful takeover bid for bankrupt petrochemicals firm LyondellBasell.

Barret believes, however, that Harburg and Heide remain attractive targets for Asian companies: “If you have a big company that has strategic plans to try to secure an outlet in the European market, that could be a good opportunity. The company would have to have enough capital to support very low margins, but that could be a very good opportunity for a company in India or elsewhere to enter the European market.”

Recent weeks have also seen speculation that Russian oil major Rosneft could be poised to enter European refining in a big way by taking over Petroleras de Venezuela’s half share in the Ruehr-Oel joint venture with BP. Ruehr-Oel is Germany’s largest single refiner, owning the Gelsenkirchen plants and holding a shares in various others, including the largest, Mito, near Karlsruhe. Any deal between the two state-owned companies would be dependent on political factors far beyond European refining, and it is telling that the reports of Rosneft’s purported plans did not develop further following Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Venezuela.

There have, however, been some clear positive signs recently. One of these came this week as BP completed its consolidation of its continental European operations. The newly-formed BP Europa hinted at possible savings by synergies between the Ruehr-Oel plants and BP’s refineries in the Netherlands, saying that further job cuts were not planned. This will come as a relief to BP’s employees in Germany, where a programme of redundancies at the Gelsenkirchen plants is part of a programme of “optimisation” reportedly worth US$100 million.

As Europe comes out of recession, German and European refiners are playing a waiting game. As they hold on for the promised return to profits in 2012 or 2013, they will have to bear in mind various undercurrents in the industry. Even as demand returns, its nature may change, bringing fresh challenges, while foreign competitors may look to establish a beachhead in Europe. While Germany may illustrate many of the challenges, it has not yet provided the answers.



Monday, 26 September 2011

Football vs the elements

Last weekend saw Russian title challengers Dinamo Moscow suffer a surprise away defeat to Krylya Sovetov Samara on a pitch compared to a swimming pool. With that in mind, here are a few more cases where football has struggled on against crazy weather.

Water

This game between Padova and Brescia makes the notorious Turkey-Switzerland tie from Euro 2008 look parched by comparison. One of my earliest football memories, thanks to the brilliant Gazetta Football Italia.



Wind

I feel sorry for the linesman in this one from a game between South Africa's Orlando Pirates and Black Leopards. You generally don't expect to get attacked by a hoarding - sort of a reverse Temuri Ketsbaia, really. Thankfully, no one was badly hurt.



Drought

This dusty pitch from the Nigerian premier league could do with a bit of water.




Cold

Here's where the real fun starts. Man City against Spurs in 1967 - the "ballet on ice". Real historical interest here too - Joe Kinnear, Pat Jennings and Terry Venables are all on the pitch for Spurs.



For pure farce value, here the Glentoran-Linfield derby from Boxing Day 1995. Snow on the ground, the only orange ball bursts and the referee starts the world's largest spot-the-ball competition.



Ice

Ever wondered what football on an ice rink would look like? Turns out it's a bit rubbish, but football in large water-filled pits looks great fun. Both types demonstrated here for an advert.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Rd1 update, round 16: Pearl diving

If Zhemchuzhina-Sochi ever make it to the Champions League, I can't wait to hear Andy Townsend grapple with the name. European football may be the ambitious Caucasus side's stated goal, but the first step is getting out of the Russian First Division, and that's looking unlikely even before the half-way stage. Poor results have dogged the club all season, but now the First Division's dream team could be on the verge of financial collapse. In a week when almost all Rd1 games went rather dully according to the form book, it's time to take a examine the Pearl's* diving ambitions.

Zhemchuzhina midfielder Ricardo Baiano hasn't been paid for three months, but his mate's just texted him a great tip about finding pizza delivery work.

Zhemchuzhina's big spending, private ownership and base in a World Cup host city have made it the darling of the Russian Football Union in recent seasons, with accompanying grumbles from other team's fans about favouritism. It's not hard to see why the authorities like the club. Zhemchuzhina has all the right ingredients to be a perfect international representative for New Russia on the world stage - a glamourous (and hideously expensive) beach resort home, some international stars and even a bit of footballing pedigree from some solid mid-90s Premier League campaigns. Yet all is not well.

Despite fielding several RPL stalwarts, among them ex-Lokomotiv goalkeeper Marek Cech and former Nalchik man Kazbek Geteriev, and signing Czech international striker Michal Papadopoulos from Eredivisie side Heerenveen, the 2011-12 campaign has been far from the coronation many predicted. Shocking on-field organisation and defeats to newly-promoted minnows were worryingly predictable even before news emerged yesterday that players have started boycotting training. The entired squad has gone AWOL over three months' unpaid wages, and the authorities consider the situation serious enough for league president Igor Yefremov to issue a statement best summed up as "nothing to see here, folks". Just before the season began, a flurry of reports emerged that the club was in financial difficulty. Many observers dismissed this as a crude, if unusual, publicity stunt from a club craving name recognition, especially considering that reports of a "rescue" followed within hours - the theory being that the club's beach-resort image was simply too useful to too many a people, a team too ideal to fail.

That theory is now being tested to destruction. OneDivision now reports that Zhemchuzhina owner Dimitrii Yakushev is in talks with the club's investors and that ten squad members have gone unpaid for so long that they now qualify as free agents under Russian rules. One unnamed player said: "We respect [Stanislav] Salamich [Cherchesov - the manager], he's not getting any money either. But why should we suffer?" Thoughts of promotion have vanished, replaced by worries about survival. Fans of teams not blessed with Zhemchuzhina's friends in high places have reacted scathingly to the trouble at the "political project" and a furious debate is raging on forums, with some claiming the whole business is "another bloody PR move". This seems to be the real thing, though - head of marketing Andrei Malosolov is reportedly looking for a new job.

Working out the financial health of a Russian business is always tricky and usually impossible (I'm a business journalist most of the time), but Zhemchuzhina's footballing troubles are easier to diagnose. The team is currently seventh, seven points off the promotion places. A defeat on Friday to Shinnik, however, is glaringly likely if the team aren't training, and that could place Zhemchuzhina as low as 12th. The match is a home game, which may at least make it easier to persuade the squad to turn up.

Last time out, a 2-1 away defeat to Sibir was marred by some "interesting" refereeing, with both Sibir goals coming from doubtfully awarded penalties**. Cherchesov said afterwards: "If that's a ref, I'm Mother Teresa".

It would be wild speculation to suggest that dodgy decisions might result from someone in financial trouble not paying their dues - but in Russian football, who knows?

* Pearl is Zhemchuzhina translated into English. Rather kinder to Andy Townsend.

**To see the dodgy pens and decide for yourself, here's a video of the match. One seems to be a handball awarded for a header, the other a spot of bodychecking outside the box. Then again, Zhemchuzhina's defending elsewhere in the game is pretty poor too.

Around the grounds

Since almost every game in Round 16 ended as expected from a fixture list that pitted promotion contenders against relegation scrappers, there's not a lot to talk about. Alania and Mordovia recorded formulaic, if not particularly impressive, wins and continue to hold the promotion places, two points ahead of a chasing pack lead by FC Nizhnyy, who also won. KamAZ fell away slightly with an unexpected 0-0 draw at home to Baltika, while the only real shock was Yenisei's 1-0 loss at home to Chernomorets. The game wasn't broadcast and there's no video available, allowing fans' conspiracy theories about the ref to flourish unchecked. One claimed Aleksei Sukhoi must have been bribed so much, "he'll be buying a new flat". Dinamo Bryansk, one of the dullest teams I've ever seen, played out an uninspiring goalless draw with Ural.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Rd1 weekly update: Round 15

The 15th round of games in the Russian First Division saw only one real shock, but continued a few of this year's more surprising trends.

Yenisei's triumph

The highlight was Yenisei's 4-2 win over a Zhemchuzhina side that imploded with eight minutes to go, conceding three, including this rather fine free kick from Valerii Korobkin.



I can't offer you a link to full highlights because OneDivision haven't posted any, despite showing the game on a rather dodgy stream on Tuesday. What I saw of the game in between the stream's many crashes pointed to the same organisational confusion that has marked Zhemchuzhina's performances all season. Goalkeeper Marek Cech admitted that Yenisei "deserved to win" because of "big mistakes in defence" on the part of Zhemchuzhina.

Yenisei, by contrast, make up for a lack of big signings with solid teamwork and great play on the break. Now fourth and two points off the top, Yenisei are in an unlikely promotion chase that shatters recent seasons' trend of awful performances by recently-promoted Siberian sides in the First Division.

Games in brief

SKA-Energia are holding 8th place based on a good home record and some very handy long shots. Goalkeeper Anton Kozorez was the stand-out performer in a 1-1 draw at home to Alania. Mordovia look like a plausible RPL side for next season and haven't lost since April. Tuesday's result was a routine if slightly clumsy 3-1 win over Baltika marked by good ball retention. Among the other promotion challengers, FC Nizhnyy's 3-1 win over Fakel and KamAZ's 3-2 win over Torpedo Moscow were fairly straightforward.

Elsewhere, a lot of former RPL teams had disappointing results - Sibir unable to beat Chernomorets at home, while Luch remain last with a 1-0 home defeat to Volgar-Gazprom Astrakhan marred by some truly dreadful finishing. Shinnik lost 2-1 to Ural, with the Yaroslavl side's Aleksandr Sukhov scoring a long-range opener that seemed to stun even him (0:35 on video). No video is available for Gazovik Orenburg's 1-1 draw in Bryansk, but it was apparently exceptionally dull.

Managerial switches

- Khimki needed a last-minute equaliser to draw 3-3 away at Torpedo Vladimir and now sit 17th, in the relegation zone with an anonymous and shallow squad. This can only increase the pressure on head coach Aleksandr Grigoryan, who received the full support of the board two weeks earlier in the aftermath of a 6-0 thumping at home by Mordovia (although first-choice keeper Roman Berezovsky was away playing for Armenia). He may be one of the most decorated managers in Russian women's football history, but that's unlikely to cut much ice with Khimki's boisterous fan base.

- Volgar-Gazprom caretaker boss Aleksandr Krotov has been given the job full time after impressing with wins over Fakel, Khimki and Luch that lifted his side out of the relegation zone. He may end up spending a lot of time introducing himself - Krotov has no Wikipedia page and a Google.ru search brings up a crashing pilot, a wedding photographer and an author of Stalker fan-fiction ahead of him.

- Sibir's director of football Dmitrii Cheryshev, best known outside Russia for a solid La Liga goalscoring record at Gijon in the mid-90s, says he has been approached for Volga Nizhnyy Novgord in the RPL. Volga reportedly want him in the job by the end of the week, which would leave Sibir with rapidly fading hopes for a return to the RPL and lacking leadership in the upcoming transfer window. Even if Volga don't pick him, the speculation could end his time at Sibir. For Volga, he would be an unknown quantity, since he's only previously run one of Real Madrid's kids' sides. He apparently performed well, although with a team from the Real academy, that wouldn't be too difficult.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Russian First Division: Top stories

Now more than a third of the extra-long 2011/12 First Division season has gone, the main themes are becoming clear. Here’s a roundup of the main plotlines so far:

Alania’s bulletproof defence



Currently enjoying the attention of the world’s football trivia fans after qualifying for Europe via the Russian Cup Final without scoring a goal, Alania have gained rather less praise for their superb performance this season in the First Division. They may have been promoted in 2009 on a technicality after FK Moskva’s collapse, but they’re now heading for promotion on merit. The foundation of Alania’s success is a bulletproof defence that has kept 10 clean sheets in 14 games so far. Alania began the season with three spectacular wins, but their results since suggest a lack of creativity, with 1-0 wins fast becoming the norm. They’re also yet to face their two closest challengers so far, KamAZ and Mordovia, but a very solid defensive performance against Zhemchuzhina-Sochi’s expensively assembled attack is an excellent marker.
Next game: SKA-Energiya Khabarovsk (A), 14.06.11. A decent test here against a competent, confident defensive team who have claimed some big scalps this season. Rossiya-2 are showing it live.

Luch’s collapse


At the other end of the table, former Premier Division side Luch-Energia Vladivostok never looked likely to regain their status as Europe’s easternmost top-level side, but their performance so far this season has been shocking. Four points from safety in last place, Luch have won only once this season, at home to 19th-placed Chernomorets. Manager Sergei Pavlov recently told fans that “Vladivostok should have a Premier League team”. If Luch don’t start scoring goals (they’ve netted once at home all season) and improve a patchy disciplinary record, that statement will soon sound ridiculous. Right now, their best hope looks to be Russian football’s politics: Luch are a big club and Vladivostok is a big city. A splash of state money in the coming transfer window might stop the port city’s flagship taking on water.
Next game: Volgar-Gazprom Astrakhan (H), 14.06.11. V-GA are relegation rivals with an appalling defensive record, and will be travelling long-haul to Vladivostok. If Luch can’t win this, they are in big trouble.


Sibir’s travel sickness

Yesterday’s defeat to caretaker manager Yurii Matveev’s Ural side continues the division’s worst run of away form, with one point this year from six away games. The one point they have earned, away to Alania, showed signs of promise, but even that performance needed some questionable refereeing to earn a penalty. While Alania stayed in the Premier League until the last day of the 2010 season, Sibir didn’t come close to survival. Defeats to Gazovik Orenburg and Torpedo Vladimir don’t suggest they’ll come close to promotion, despite strong home form. The problems are tactical too: against Ural players were out of position and a central midfield obsessed with Ural’s Branimir Petrovic allowed deeper-lying midfielders far too much time on the ball. Communication in defence is another worry, while a couple of players, notably veteran winger Tomas Cizek, simply looked unfit.
Next game: Chernomorets (H), 14.04.11. Should be an easy win against the defensively fragile 19th-placed side. Should.

World Cup host cities prosper

Sochi and Saransk will both be hosting World Cup games in 2018, and it’s more than a coincidence that local sides Zhemchuzhina and Mordovia are both thriving in the division they joined last year. Zhemchuzhina’s big spending is a tale of two Czechs: ex-Lokomotiv goalkeeper Marek Cech and striker Michal Papadopoulos, who made regular appearances in the Eredivisie last year with Heerenveen. Both have played solidly so far, but the real stars are creative midfielders Maxim Demenko and Kazbek Geteriev. The main weakness is some very disjointed play – at times, the players seem like they barely know one another, and this can paralyse the team. In April, this meant a total inability to close out ten-man Luch that put the eventual 1-0 win at risk. Mordovia’s success has been more of a surprise, with the only real fireworks coming in a 6-0 demolition of nine-man Khimki last Saturday. One star is Chile’s Gerson Acevedo, a creative player and a reliable goal threat, who seems to have adapted well to Russia, despite admitting that when he joined, all he knew about the place was that “it’s cold, they like vodka and there are a lot of beautiful girls”.
Next games: Yenisei v Zhemchuzhina, Mordovia v Baltika. Both games present a decent challenge of exactly the sort that both sides need to overcome. Worth a watch.

Subplots

I haven’t seen much of Yenisei yet, but they’re riding high in fourth, one point off a promotion place and have put in decent performances against top sides. Nizhnyy Novgorod, who missed out on promotion last year due to Russian Football Union politics, are still in the hunt, but a 5-1 home defeat to Ural means they look fragile. Ural, in turn, are well-organised and boast a strong attack featuring pacy Andrei Chukhlei and former Amkar target man Predrag Sikimic, and could be a tempting outside bet for promotion.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Goals of the week

Check out Anton Grigoryev's overhead kick for the first goal (0:10)- easily the best of the season so far. As for the second (0:22), only Ibrahim Gnanou knows if he meant that. On this evidence, Alania are going back to the Russian Premier League.



Third prize goes to Zhemchuzhina's Kazbek Geteriev for a sweetly-hit free kick against Gazovik Orenburg (0:31). Booby prize goes to the soporific commentator on this video.

His contribution will not be televised

It's safe to say that the Russian First Division isn't a league that broadcasters across the world have been fighting over. The new 2011-12 season is the first time it's been nationally televised, despite feeding one of the world's richest leagues. Two games in and the experiment seems to be working, to judge by an ecstatic reception across fan sites. It gives football fans and the provinces - both often taken for granted by the Russian elites - something to cheer about.

But the new TV exposure also offers a salutary lesson: even in a footballing age saturated with YouTube clips set to dreadful Eurodance, it's perfectly possible for a player to shine and never be seen. Take Dimitrii Akimov. His hat-trick yesterday against Baltika Kaliningrad took him to 114 goals in 170 appearances for Sibir Novosibirsk (H/t Domm Norris), but the TV cameras were elsewhere, covering a scrappy mess in Voronezh, and the league didn't send anyone to get footage for its clip show.

Akimov is a ghost on video sites. He has a reputation as a powerful, perhaps English-style forward, but there's no way to see for yourself. A pretty exhaustive search turns up two clips of him scoring, and a couple more of him in the background during a fitful  Premier League spell at Rostov. There's no trace of his 34-goal club record haul in 2007.

So here, in tribute to Dimitrii Akimov, the man who fell through the cracks, is his only goal from open play on the Internet:



(The goal is for Sibir against SKA-Khabarovsk. The game finished 1-1.)

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

First division preview 07.04.2011



After a strong season opener on Monday marred by a shocking penalty decision against Ural (above), here's a look at what to expect from Thursday's second round of games. I'll be watching the Fakel-Shinnik game and commenting on Twitter (@jellingworth).

Fakel Voronezh - Shinnik Yaroslavl (2pm GMT)

Thursday's TV game pits new boys Fakel against Shinnik. City-wise, there's a lot of history: Voronezh is known as the "birthplace of the Russian fleet" and Yaroslavl has so many pretty churches that Unesco made it a World Heritage Site. In football terms, this might not be the most attractive game of the season, though.

Fakel are back in the First Division after a five-year absence due to financial collapse and then being thrown out of the Second Division for bribery. Their first game back was a gritty if unspectacular 1-0 win over Dinamo Bryansk thanks to a good free kick from Dmitrii Shestakov. Fakel seem solidly organised with decent ball retention and a very capable keeper in Roman Gerus. Maxim Romaschenko should provide the creative spark.


Shinnik are a solid mid-table side at this level with a reputation for a tight defence. That said, they lost a few decent players over the winter, and might find life tougher this year. After a routine 2-0 defeat away to Khimki, a win in Voronezh would settle some of the uncertainty. Ivorian Alli N'Dri is a creative full-back with pace but didn't feature in Khimki for unknown reasons, although experienced new signing Konstantin Skrylnikov had a good game in midfield.

Prediction: A draw, but don't be surprised if both sides get aggressive late on. It's a winnable game for either team, and both managers will want to store up points early in the season.

Highlights elsewhere:

The game between Alania and Nizhniy looks like the tie of the round, a battle between last year's almost-promoted side and one of the teams whose RPL place they were chasing. Alania's dominating win over Torpedo Vladimir can be seen here, while Nizhniy beat Volgar-Gazprom AstrakhanThe other match between two of Monday's winners is the Gazovik Orenburg - Zhemchuzhina-Sochi tie. Newcomers Gazovik battled to a win over Chernomorets on Monday but will have to step up against fancied Zhemchuzhina, who have severe problems of their own with teamwork. The Sochi team's opponents last time out were Ural, who looked a solid unit and created much more than the 3-1 defeat suggests. They remain outside promotion candidates, and should cope easily with Chernomorets at home. Sibir, relegated from the Premier League last year, host Baltika Kaliningrad. Sibir have one of the strongest squads in the league and did well against Torpedo Moscow last time out. Baltika have sorted out paperwork for three new players who will be available, so they may raise their game after a disappointing goalless draw with Yenisei.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

How to make Russian TV news

A great summary here of how Russian TV news works. This applies to any channel, since they're all state-controlled (officially or unofficially).

Item one features the president visiting somewhere – a hospital, a school, a farm. Item two is a serious piece of national news: forest fires, economic problems. Item three is a piece of foreign news, chosen to show that Russia’s problems are nothing compared with other countries’: if the Russian piece has been about forest fires, the next item will be about forest fires in Australia or the US; if the Russian news has been about economic problems, the next item will focus on economic problems in the West. The final item is always a happy piece: a tiger cub born in a zoo, Russian victory at the Eurovision Song Contest.

This comes from an article in the LRB about the tribulations of the man who launched the Russian Apprentice. Well worth a read.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

What not to wear: Russian football edition

 
I've started following Russian football recently, not least thanks to some excellent Twitter feeds. It's a fascinating football culture boasting political stunts, over-the-hill Brazilian legends and goals like this. It also, as I found out while rather bored yesterday, has some appalling club merchandise.

Now, I don't mean to sneer, not least because I live in the country that produced Rangers bridal garters and a Fulham babygro emblazoned with the words "I'm a little cottager." In fact, most of the merchandise is rather tasteful, like these Lokomotiv Moscow ties for that 100 percent polyester railwayman in your life. In the case of many clubs, it's actually quite hard to find an online shop, since many Russian clubs have a famous disregard for their fans, who contribute very little of a team's income.

Anyway, caveats aside, let's get down to the business of mocking horrible products. First up is Dinamo Moscow, who offer a pretty awful ornamental plate, presumably aimed at any grannies in the stands, that depicts the great stadium they're busy demolishing. Dinamo follow this up with a take on a Pringle jumper that isn't that bad in itself, just a bit odd. Not to be outdone, Rubin have a naff Champions League cushion that I can only hope no one at Uefa authorised, or my faith in Michel Platini will slide even further.


While not strictly merchandise, Sibir Novosibirsk's new third shirt (above, apparently being launched in a village hall) is presumably available for the public to look like idiots in, and establishes a trend between crap products and the colour orange. This is bravely taken up by second-level side Zhemchuzhina Sochi. I actually have a bit of a soft spot for Zhemchuzhina, mostly because of their similarities with Blackpool as a seaside team playing in orange. But this doesn't excuse the stream of garish crud on display, chiefly this tangerine-and-steel-grey polo shirt, this extortionately expensive tracksuit and the worst offender so far, a cushion apparently targeting fans who also like Hello Kitty.

To find the winner of this race to the bottom, however, you have to look elsewhere in the post-Soviet space. Taking first prize are Shakhtar Donetsk, the nouveau-riche giant-killers from eastern Ukraine. The club boasts a range of crap wide enough to discuss all day. There's a child's dress that hurts your eyes, but the very worst piece of tat is this attempt at art, an easel holding a sketch of the Donbass arena apparently produced by a prisoner equipped only with a biro and some tea for colouring in. That and a Chinese whisper of what the stadium actually looks like.

Honourable mention: Red Star Belgrade's basketball team for wearing a shirt with "Cockta" written on it.